Democratic Town Committee returns top three officers to their posts

Chairman declines to respond to critical letter from his predecessors

Posted 1/15/21

The Bristol Democratic Town Committee held its biennial reorganizational meeting and election of officers on Monday, Jan. 11. Three officers retained positions first assumed two years ago: Erich …

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Democratic Town Committee returns top three officers to their posts

Chairman declines to respond to critical letter from his predecessors

Posted

The Bristol Democratic Town Committee held its biennial reorganizational meeting and election of officers on Monday, Jan. 11. Three officers retained positions first assumed two years ago: Erich Haslehurst was re-elected chairman, Tracy Ramos was re-elected vice chairman, and Bethany Foster was re-elected treasurer.

Lisa Peterson is the new corresponding secretary, and Nancy Kellner is the new recording secretary.

Mr. Haslehurst’s role as chairman comes under scrutiny this week in a letter signed by his three predecessors. Former town committee chairmen Ken Marshall, Tony Rego and John Faria claim that his dual role of paid political consultant and party leader creates a potential conflict of interest, or at the very least the appearance of conflict.

The Phoenix looked more closely at their claims.

According to its website, the Bristol Democratic Town Committee helps “enhance dialogue and action among local elected Democratic leaders and to encourage more local voices to participate in our democracy by increasing voter participation, supporting local Democratic candidates, and becoming elected leaders.”

In his role as chairman, Mr. Haslehurst leads the committee members. The town committee endorses a slate of local (i.e.: Bristol) candidates. In this last election cycle, they endorsed a slate of five Democrats for Bristol Town Council, and one Democrat for Bristol Town Clerk. Had a Democrat chosen to oppose Independent Steven Contente for town administrator, they may well have chosen to endorse that individual.

The town committee does not formally endorse candidates for national or state offices, such as the Rhode Island General Assembly.

Mr. Haslehurst derives no income or other financial benefit in his volunteer role as town committee chairman, and the officers of the town committee are not required, by state law, to file ethics disclosures.

Professionally, Mr. Haslehurst is a registered lobbyist and a partner in Statecraft Strategies, a Providence-based issues management firm that organizes policy, political, and grassroots campaigns, communications and public relations. In this past election cycle, Statecraft Strategies assisted with campaigns at the state level, including the passage of Question 1, which eliminated “Providence Plantations” from the state name.

During the election seasons of both 2018 and 2020, Mr. Haslehurst was a paid political consultant for Reps. June Speakman and Susan Donovan, as well as Sen. Cindy Coyne. Reps. Speakman and Donovan each reported paying his firm $3,500 for its work during this most recent campaign season. Sen. Coyne reported paying the firm $500.

As a registered lobbyist, Mr. Haslehurst files monthly disclosure forms with the Secretary of State, indicating the amount and source of his income. For 2020, Mr. Haslehurst reported the bulk of his income from three sources: $60,000 from IGT, $22,000 from the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, and $10,000 from Represent.us, an organization with a mission to “… bring together conservatives, progressives, and everyone in between to pass powerful state and local laws that fix our broken elections and stop political bribery … ending political corruption, extremism and gridlock.”

Further, work as a lobbyist alone does not appear to preclude one from serving in a community-based organization such as the town committee. State law defines lobbying as follows: acting directly or soliciting others to act for the purpose of promoting, opposing, amending, or influencing any action or inaction by any member of the executive or legislative branch of state government or any public corporation. 42 R.I. Gen. Laws Ann. § 42-139.1-3. Specifically exempted: “Persons participating in a governmental advisory committee or task force; and Persons appearing on behalf of an … organization with which they are associated, if that person’s regular duties do not include lobbying or government relations.”

Reached for comment on the claims in the letter, Mr. Haslehurst was not interested in going on record with a response.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.